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Games Entertainment

A Brief History of Downloadable Console Games 53

Ant sends in a story at CNet about the evolution of downloadable console games, ranging from Intellivision's PlayCable in 1981 to the modern systems we see today. Quoting: "Intellivision was the first home console to let users download games via a coaxial cable line. Subscribers rented a special cartridge that hooked up to local cable and would be able to download single games that could be played until users decided to download new titles. The service's downfall was a result of innovations to Mattel's Intellivision game system, which began using cartridges with ever-increasing amounts of memory. The PlayCable service could no longer keep up, since the special cartridge could hold only a fourth of the total space that newer games required."
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A Brief History of Downloadable Console Games

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  • SEGA Channel (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grumling ( 94709 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @11:21AM (#28241479) Homepage

    I remember the Sega Channel. I got to test it out on our cable system prior to launch. ...I spent way too much time playing Earthworm Jim, but at least I was on the clock!

    Great idea, but they screwed up by not making a version for the SEGA Saturn (or whatever the next generation was), which was already in the pipeline and may have even been released that year. That's fairly typical of the time though, since everything was completely proprietary.

  • by StreetStealth ( 980200 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @12:30PM (#28241955) Journal

    Isn't homebrew code speak for pirates these days?

    For closet pirates, it is. But not for everyone else.

    For a console with an active homebrew community, like the Nintendo DS, there's a huge volume of stuff coming out all the time -- a lot of it not very good, but some of it excellent. I have a flash cartridge, and pretty much all I use it for is painting with the Colors! app. That cart is probably in there even more than Advance Wars.

  • The console Catch-22 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Sunday June 07, 2009 @01:49PM (#28242611) Homepage Journal

    Yup, "homebrew" has become the new "backup copy" as a euphemism for "pirated games".

    In order to develop video games, I need to get a job at a video game studio that has a console license. But in order to get a job, I first need to develop video games to build a resume. How do I break the Catch-22 without homebrew?

  • by psydeshow ( 154300 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:56PM (#28243135) Homepage

    I went through two of those ginormous, 9V-battery-powered Gameline cartridges. That was like magic, being able to log in to a proto-BBS using an Atari 2600. It's not like the games were that great, but the whole process of connecting, logging on, and browsing the service was entertaining all on its own. Just trying to figure out how it worked, and why it broke so often, probably set me on the path to being a hacker.

    I had no idea that CVC (the operator) became America Online, but it makes perfect sense. Gameline had mainstream distribution, proprietary dialup networking, and a walled garden full of crappy content. Anyone who actually remembers AOL will recognize the similarities immediately.

  • by 10101001 10101001 ( 732688 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @03:14PM (#28243283) Journal

    Isn't homebrew code speak for pirates these days? I think the idea of homebrew is great, but it seems like it's the pirates that use that as the skirt to hide their true meaning much more often than actual homebrew use.

    The only thing I can say to that is, of course. The same problem exists when it comes to PCs and Windows. The amount of people who are technological inclinated enough to figure out how to pirate, run homebrew, or program homebrew is realtively small, even on a relatively open platform like PCs. For consoles, the problem is even more skewed since 99% of software ends up being on proprietary cartridges made by commercial vendors. New consoles are coming out quite frequently, and homebrewers, having their own taste, tend to gravity to new ones over time, often being on the cutting edge. For legitimate homebrewers, this translates into trying to make a console more open and the ratio of commercial to homebrew more even, so their work has more legitimacy (and more outward support from other developers).

    Work to make console-like platforms from scratch tend to fail, though, as economy of scale makes such platforms more expensive and most people don't tend to buy into a platform unless it already has an existing large library of software or they believe there is an organization backing the production of new software for several years. This is one reason Linux-based subnotebooks have caught on, but even then it's unclear if people are willing to buy into non-x86 platforms or if the brief, yet relatively small, such can support more long-term success to create a long-term, legitimately-recognized community for that platform. After all, Linux being portable on many devices sounds great at first, but if each platform has a different CPU, different sound and graphics capabilities, and other very different presumptions, then each Linux installation may very quickly turn into a platform only as big as the current model line.

    So, given the massive hurdles involved, it's little wonder that those people so technically inclined tend towards gaming the existing system to their benefit (piracy or whatever) than working towards legitimacy recognition. And without legitimacy, most organizations and people will be unwilling to associate themselves with even the legitimate homebrewers. Why bother with research on who is legitimate and who isn't when you can just paint a broad brush that "DS flashcart users are pirates"? I guess it must hold, then, that those who work against paying Microsoft for Windows must be all pirates. I'm very certain there are more users of a pirated copy of Windows than Linux PC users.

  • by Spud70 ( 944688 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @07:07PM (#28245057)
    The ZX Spectrum used to store it's games / programs on audio cassette, a few times channel 4 (UK TV channel) would "play" the code of a demo game and you could plug your cassette recorder into the audio out of your TV and "download" the game.
  • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:42PM (#28245759)

    Yup, "homebrew" has become the new "backup copy" as a euphemism for "pirated games". Pretty much anytime someone says something like "but how will I run my homebrew" or "what about my right to run backup copies", they really mean "pirated games".

    It sort of annoys me, because the intellectual dishonesty is so blatant. Especially when I see someone complaining that they can't make (and especially run) a backup copy of something like a DS game.

    Pardon, why is wanting to play a backup copy of a DS game an automatic admission of piracy? Have you looked around lately? Haven't you noticed how platforms like the Wii have multiple games on the console without needing to change discs? Has the DSi and the PSP Go blown right by you?

    Ordinarily I might have been with you on assuming that 'backup copy' was a euphimism for 'not-paid-for-copy'. That was until I bumped into a couple of friends of mine that were tinkering with their hacked PSPs trying to get ISO's to run. Blatant pirates, right? Nope. The ISOs were coming from their own discs. The reason they wanted them to run is that they were able to compress them and put 10+ games on their memory stick. The games loaded faster, used less battery, and made the machine a lot more convenient because it didn't require carrying around a little pouch with a bunch of UMDs in it.

    The little bit about having multiple games on the memory card is what sold me. Now my PSP is hacked and has several ISOs on it, none of them acquired without purchase. I already have a DS and plenty of games, but you can bet I'll be getting a DSi once Nintendo's app store starts looking like the Wii's.

    Maybe all these people really are talking about acquiring games without paying. I couldn't tell you. But I cannot say I go along with your assumption that one automatically means another. Both Nintendo and Sony have come to realize that people want to store the games on their machines. That's why the Wii, DSi, and PSP Go are designed the way they are. People have seen this future of gaming for years, they beat Nintendo and Sony to the punch. That doesn't make them criminals.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky